What does it mean to curate public programming instead of curating exhibitions?
Effective public programming is a process of becoming. So that publicly we engage with these issues the same way two people of mutual respect enter a conversation. Therefore, there is no way of knowing when or how our commitment to these issues will end. The extent of the public’s participation in these issues should be the deciding factor of how long a public programming initiative continues to address an issue. By a gallery space forcing itself into a public position of service to these issues it necessitates a fundamental power shift, and mandates that its programming be responsive to a growing public interest for balanced social engagement through talking and participatory programming. This re-ordering of values necessitates a foregrounding of curatorial accountability, reciprocity, and exchange that forms the basis of a gallery’s social life, and by extension, its social values.
Public programming can be just about anything that is open to the public to attend and contribute to. In my view, the purpose of public programming is to connect people to people in a public forum around larger issues that we care about. Because I work for an art gallery – it makes sense that this programming has something to do (however peripherally it may be) with an aesthetic or creative dimension of that issue that has been overlooked or has not been sufficiently researched.
In broad terms, exhibitions are one small component of public programming. However, within the context of an art gallery this component is often dictated by material outcomes as “things”. This relationship of object to people within an “exhibitionary complex” (to borrow a term from Tony Bennett) characterized as a passive relationship that is shaped for the public in most cases by the gallery employees. The gallery or museum determines what the object is, what is written alongside the object, what the object is, how long you will be allowed to be with that thing, and the conditions within which you see it. All of these considerations instill a power dynamic that stacks the deck and centers attention on the thing itself. Public programming that recognizes people and the issues they care about (rather than explicitly things) tends to center its purpose to concerns that people carry inside them and therefore we have more power to share and personally/creatively describe what that concern is.
Why not just do exhibitions?
As public galleries increase their commitment to maintaining and building personal relationships with their visitors – it is also important that this relationship is developed reciprocally. Just as curators need and expect visitors to pay attention to what they put in the gallery space, curators must also pay attention to what the public’s needs of that same space are. As these needs change – so must the offer of the gallery. This reciprocity can build enormous potential.
The exhibition can be a very rigid form of creative interaction with material culture necessitated by insurance stipulations, loan agreements, exhibition schedules, art historical narratives, on and on. It is important, when appropriate, to respond outside of these constrictions with flexibility and purpose. Often times – to do so we must change the frame of language that binds an experience to an expectation. This is one of the attractions to distancing ourselves from the language of exhibitions (both in naming, as well as in space) so that we can build a more flexible, reciprocal and fluid gallery experience that recognizes both curatorial and public accountability to the use of these public spaces.
Don’t you care about artists? Isn’t that what you’re here for?
Artists are heavily invested in the power and use of gallery spaces. They spend a lot of time there and accordingly have innumerable considerations of how the space can be used creatively to accommodate a range of needs.
Altering the use of a gallery shifts the interpretations of what is inside the gallery. Accordingly, many artists embrace an expanded use of gallery spaces beyond the confines of thematic or solo exhibitions because new public contexts to be with their creations often broaden and deepen the interpretations assigned to their works.
Who is doing this?
There are many institutions, curators, and artists who are working in this genre and have done so for decades. Here is a very partial list:
How can I get involved in this?
Don’t wait for someone else to give you keys. Make it yourself!
Who paid for all this?
Andy did - that's who. This Curatorial Fellowship research was generously funded by the Andy Warhol Foundation.